Taxi drivers are calling for action to tackle the problem of catalytic converter thefts which can leave their cars off the road for weeks and facing hefty repair bills.
Since the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, thieves have become more inventive and ruthless as they find new ways to make money.
Targeting the precious metals found in catalytic converters can earn them hundreds or even thousands of pounds at a time. The location of catalytic converters varies between vehicle makes and models, but many of those used as taxis and private-hire vehicles have proved popular targets for criminals.
Having identified a vehicle – including hybrids such as the Toyota Prius which have two converters – organised gangs quickly jack up the car and use an angle grinder to remove the converter from the exhaust system.
CCTV footage of converter thefts shows brazen thieves targeting vehicles on their owners’ driveways, as well as in car parks and main roads. They are organised and experienced in what they do, often escaping with the converters in a matter of seconds.
By cutting through the exhaust system to steal the converter, they have removed a vital component that reduces emissions and improves the performance of the vehicle. Focusing purely on removing the converter, they often cut through wires and cables, causing further damage expense to replace. They can also damage the suspension of a vehicle which is hurriedly dropped to the ground as the thieves escape with their haul.
While it is easy money for them, what is left behind is devastating for the owners of the vehicle, particularly if they are older and parts are difficult or expensive to come by. A catalytic converter theft will see a taxi or private-hire vehicle off the road for weeks and can lead to it being written off.
But even while a vehicle is being repaired or an insurance claim is being processed, the taxi driver will often be unable to work until a replacement has been found, meaning they are losing out on income, as well as dealing with the cost of the theft.
Once their repaired or replaced car is back on the road, they also face the possibility of having to pay higher taxi insurance premiums.
Among those who have been affected by catalytic converter thefts are taxi drivers in Bolton, who want tougher penalties for those who not only steal them, but also for those who buy them.
Suraj Patel, of the Private Hire Taxi Union in the town, told The Bolton News: “It has been going on for the past three years, but it is getting worse. It is a big issue.
“If you steal one it can be sold for £600 to £700. On a Mercedes they can cost £2,500.
“It can take two weeks to get them replaced so you lose two weeks of work. On a Toyota it can be £1,000 to £1,500 to replace.”
And for Mr Patel, action needs to be taken to stop demand for stolen converters, which he hopes will reduce the number of thefts in the first place.
He said: “There needs to be punishment for people who buy the catalytic converters as well as for those who steal them.
“They are encouraging criminal behaviour. They need to be made to pay costs, court costs, costs to taxi drivers.”
The Bolton News reports that Greater Manchester was particularly vulnerable to catalytic converter thefts, with 1,214 stolen in 2022, equivalent to 101.97 per 100,000 households. The rate is the tenth worst in the country.
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